10 Weekend Getaways Within 5 Hours of LA That Are Perfect for Fall
From the coast to the mountains, spanning rustic campgrounds to luxe hotels, these are the best places to escape the city this fall.
Summer gets all the hype in California, with beach towns and forest campgrounds fully primed for city-dwellers to descend upon them for surfing and hiking, exploring and chilling. But fall may actually be the best time to get out of LA for a weekend getaway—the crowds have come and gone so everything is mellow, and our lovely climate means that the whole state stays warm and dry right through Thanksgiving, with just the hint of a hard, cold edge to the air.
Fall is the perfect time for a luxurious escape to wine country for pinot noir and vaquero-style tri-tip without the sweltering temperatures. You can also wind your way up to a rustic cabin in a funky mountain town for hiking, pizza, bud, and a crisp mountain breeze. And our coastal communities don’t go to sleep just because it’s the off-season—it’s still warm enough to wear your boardshorts from the sand right into the brewery. For all of that and more, here are the 10 ideas for an epic fall weekend getaway:
California’s Central Coast has all of the ideal ingredients for a weekend getaway. Morro Bay is a little below-the-radar, but its lovely waterfront still fills with tourists during the summer season. In the fall, on the other hand, the town is quieter, moving at a slower pace without losing any of the charm or things to do.
The town is best known for Morro Rock, a mound of volcanic rock that juts out into the ocean, looming over the quaint dockside scene along the Embarcadero and in the background of all of your pictures along the Morro Mural Mile. You can see it from on land, or you can check it out from the water with a customizable kayak tour with Wildheart Coastal Adventures, which can also take you back into the estuary and marine reserve to see all sorts of wildlife. If you’re interested in Central Coast seafood, you can go on a Seaweed Foraging Adventure with sustainable, worker-owned co-op Kelpful, or pick up fresh Pacific Gold oysters directly from the source at Morro Bay Oyster Company.
Because it’s a destination town, there is also plenty of good eating and drinking to be done in Morro Bay, from coffee and pastries at Top Dog or Sun-N-Buns to fresh-caught seafood from Tognazzini’s or Dorn’s Cafe. Finish your evening with a fine craft ale from two great local breweries, the excellent sour and wild ale brewery Libertine or at the laid-back nano-brewpub Three Stacks & A Rock, named for Morro Rock and the three smokestacks from the now defunct Morro Bay Power Plant, which are actually due to come down within the next five years.
Drive: 3.5 hours
Stay: Hotels are common in Morro Bay, as you might imagine for a place that receives so many visitors. Among the local options with convenient access to the Embarcadero, the Sea Air Inn stands out for its recent tasteful renovation and perfect location. Cottages, surf shacks, and guest suites are also plentiful on various rental websites and directly through Morro Bay's official website.
Outdoor activities don’t have to stop just because it gets dark a little earlier—the cooler temperatures make fall even better than summer for nature adventures, and no place has better access to the outdoors than Kernville, Southern California’s gateway to the Sierras. The small town is located on the banks of the mighty Kern River, which has some of the best whitewater rafting in California, but Kernville is rich with other things to do in the forest, too.
You can head a few minutes south to Lake Isabella for year-round watersports, including top-notch windsurfing in addition to the usual boats, jet skis, and kayaks. Kernville is also within easy striking distance of Sequoia National Forest, including a couple hours drive from spectacular sights like the Trail of 100 Giants, a relatively easy walking path through a grove of Giant Sequoias over 10 feet in diameter. And if action sports are more your speed, Kernville has some of the best mountain biking and rock climbing around; you can book lessons and guided half-day or full day trips for activities through Sierra South.
If you prefer a slower pace, cruise down to Silver City Ghost Town, a museum in the shape of a town with more than 20 historic buildings that have been hauled down to Lake Isabella from various Old West mining communities around the region, restored into a state of “arrested decay” to show what they might have looked like after the gold rush but before they were totally abandoned. Or stay in Kernville and kick back at Kern River Brewing Company, one of the best and most underrated breweries in California. KRBC was founded by two former Olympians, husband and wife whitewater kayakers Rebecca and Eric Giddens, who retired from medal-winning first careers (Rebecca has an Olympic Silver in Canoe Slalom, among others) and moved into medal-winning second careers for their beers—Citra, their signature Double IPA, has taken home all sorts of hardware from competitions like Great American Beer Festival, and it happens to be released in early November this year.
Drive: Three hours
Stay: You can camp right along the river at campgrounds like Kern River’s Edge, Rivernook Campground, or Camp Kernville. There are also fun cabins dotted all along the river and up into the mountains available through Airbnb. And there are plenty of rustic casual hotels and motels in the area, though none are particularly luxurious.
Big Sur’s physical footprint is large, including 90 miles of rocky coastline and a redwood forest between Carmel and San Simeon. But its cultural footprint is truly massive, outstripping the physical space like the exhibit at the zoo where you compare your wingspan to a California condor. This is the area in which Henry Miller spent two decades, which inspired Kerouac and Brautigan and Huxley, which is still home to Esalen and the Zen mountain retreat Tassajara.
That counterculture ethos collides with a spate of luxury hotels and glamping experiences, not to mention a loose collective of rugged outdoors people who have come to Big Sur to live as close as you can get to “off the grid” while still maintaining reliable access to perfect pan au chocolate.
As a visitor that means your options run a truly wild gamut, from backpacking or camping at Pfeiffer State Park to the tasting menu and the award-winning wine cellar at Sierra Mar. Either way you should check out the windswept coastline and purple sand at Pfeiffer Beach or the cliffs at Garrapata. The Big Sur River Inn is almost 90 years old, with a solid craft beer tap list and good burgers, and they have chairs set up right in the freezing cold river so you can dip a toe while you wet your whistle. The Big Sur Bakery is the crown jewel of the area’s dining scene, a rustic bungalow with an emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients; they kick out stunning pastries and brunch-inspired platess during the week, and a truly special weekend dinner service, where almost everything gets a spin through their wood-burning oven.
Drive: About five hours
Stay: There’s great car camping in the aforementioned State Park, and lovely cabins along the river at the Big Sur Campground & Cabins. The River Inn and Fernwood run towards the motel side. You can also get romantic at the classic Deetjen’s or super luxurious at the Post Ranch Inn and Ventana.
North County San Diego
You may not think of a beach town as the ideal fall getaway, but few areas have the versatility and universal appeal of the North County San Diego coastline, a chill stretch from Solana Beach to Oceanside, with good surfer vibes and plenty of culture.
If you’re in for theme park stuff with the family, Legoland is right there and the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park (FKA Wild Animal Park) are a short drive away. If you’re looking for more adult activities, San Diego’s fantastic beer scene is almost too convenient, and you don’t even have to venture out of North County to partake. And to be able to take it all in with the backdrop of the sun setting over perfect sandy beaches is a real treat, even if it gets a little too chilly to jump in the water.
If you’re in the mood for fresh-caught sustainable seafood, head to Carlsbad Aquafarm for a guided tour where you’ll learn about sustainable shellfish farming, how to shuck oysters, and conclude with a generous tasting. Fall is also a great time to join a whale watching cruise, with humpback whale, killer whale, and fin whale (slightly smaller than blue whales) sightings popular in October and November.
Best of all, if you’re in the area for a weekend you can do it all in one trip—breweries in town Friday night, catch some wildlife on Saturday, fine dining or a food hall that night, then put your toes in the sand on Sunday before heading home.
Drive: About two hours
Stay: The Carlsbad Inn is a lovely traditional beachfront option which also includes bikes and beach equipment for guest use. The Green Room is a boutique hotel that opened in 2021 in Oceanside with grab ‘n go foam surfboards, beach cruisers, and a very stylish design. And Airbnbs are abundant up and down the coastal area.
Valle de Guadalupe
One of the greatest—and most underutilized—perks of LA living is our proximity to the US-Mexico border. Tijuana is an easy two and a half hour drive away, a straight shot down the I-5 to the San Ysidro border crossing. Once across, there is a world of amazing food, coffee, craft beer, and agave spirits to explore just minutes from the frontera. But if you push on another hour or so, you can make it to the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja California’s wine region.
In recent years the Valle has exploded in popularity, which has been a boon for some local businesses while also bringing challenges for the area’s limited infrastructure and resources. It is a fantastic, gorgeous, wild place, but be sure to be a responsible guest while you’re there. There are too many great restaurants and wineries to count, but some of the high-end standouts include chef David Castro Hussong’s Fauna at the Bruma winery, chef Javier Plascencia’s Animalón, and chef Drew Deckman’s eponymous restaurant at Mogor Badan winery. There are great traditional options too, from the adobada at Taqueria La Principal to the legendary breakfasts at La Cocina de Doña Esthela. If that sounds like a lot, well, you’re right—you may want to consider a guided tour. WineNomada offers a good one, among many others.
Drive: About four hours, but it could be longer on the way back depending on the border crossing.
Stay: Encuentro Guadalupe is romantic and chic with private decks and its own winery. Bruma also has villas and a boutique eight-room hotel in addition to the winery and Fauna restaurant. Uva Uva is a new-ish collection of four stylish solar-powered cabins with a sustainable and self-sufficient focus.
Head to lesser-known Mt. Pinos (nestled in between Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Kern, and Santa Barbara counties) for an evening (or two) of stargazing. Known as one of the best spots to watch the night sky in California, Cuyama translates to “clam” in the Chumash language, which likely refers to the millions of petrified and prehistoric clamshell fossils that can be found in the area. During the day, check out the super-blooms of wildflowers at the Carrizo Plains National Monument, home to salt flats, grasslands, and cave paintings. Lace up your hiking boots or grab your mountain bike and hit the Los Padres National Forest to explore more than 200 trails that lead to waterfalls and epic views. Prefer a scenic route? Take a quick drive to Pine Mountain Club—just 45 minutes up—for catch-and-release fishing at Fern’s Lake and cross-country skiing. During the winter, there’s also sledding on local trails and at Pine Mountain Club’s Golf Course. A concerted effort to recover the endangered California Condor is underway at Bitter Creek Wildlife Refuge, and while the refuge is not open to the public in order to protect wildlife habitats, large portions can be seen from Hudson Ranch Road, including California condors, mule deer, tule elk, California quail, golden eagle, owls, and occasionally greater roadrunner.
After your fun, hit the Condor Cafe for satisfying diner dishes and the Condor Lounge for cocktails, wine, beer, and live entertainment. There’s also The Buckhorn Restaurant & Bar, within the historic Cuyama Buckhorn resort, where you can dig into farm-to-table comfort food and Santa Maria-style barbecue.
Drive: About two hours
Stay: Boutique roadside resort the Cuyama Buckhorn is a must-stay spot in the Cuyama Valley, offering communal fire pits to roast s’mores under the stars, hot tubs to warm up on cool evenings, and a barrel sauna to detox from the city. You can also find an Aitrbnb in the area.
Escape the city and head to Santa Barbara County’s wine country for a relaxing getaway without the crowds of Napa or Sonoma up north. Get your day started with coffee and old Western vibes at Pony Espresso or Queen Cup Coffee in the quaint historic town of Santa Ynez, followed by some shopping at the eclectic Santa Ynez General, where you’ll find home decor, candles, fragrances, and gifts to take home with you.
The town of Los Olivos is the wine-tasting capital of Southern California, with dozens of wine shops and tasting rooms, including standouts like Solminer, Stolpman Vineyards, Story of Soil Wine, Future Perfect Wine, and Dragonette Cellars. Speaking of seafood and wine, stop for a bite at Bar Le Côté, the second restaurant from the team behind Michelin-rated French bistro Bell’s in nearby Los Alamos, for Central Coast meets European coastal cooking. And if you prefer to taste your wine among the vines themselves, the drive up to Demetria is gorgeous, and the wines at the end of the trek are elegant and fun.
Once you hit the road again, stop by Bob’s Well Bread a few miles away in Ballard for breakfast or lunch. The original, just a little further north in Los Alamos, is a local institution for pastries and sourdough bread, and the town itself is full of destination-worthy food and drinks.
For a taste of the area’s iconic cuisine, head north to Nipomo to the legendary steakhouse Jocko’s for titanic cuts of beef grilled over a live oak fire. Or head south to Buellton to the landmark Hitching Post 2; you’ll need a reservation for dinner, but you can walk in for lunch at their tasting room Hitching Post Wines next door. Here, owner Frank Ostini and his winemaking partner, Gray Hartley, select wines that pair with their wood-fired fare.
Drive: 2.5 hours
Stay: Hotel Ynez, a modern retreat that sits on two private acres; The Winston, a smaller luxury hotel in Solvang; the fancier The Fess Parker Wine Country Inn in Los Olivos; the off-the-beaten-path Ballard Inn and Gathering Table in Ballard; the six-room, rustic-chic The Inn at Zaca Creek in Buellton; or, if you’re really all about that bread, there are two cottages directly behind Bob’s Well Bread in Los Alamos that come with free coffee and pastries at the bakery.
Ojai Valley is known for many things—hot springs, olive oil, wine, and their fabulous farm-to-table fare. Sample the local olive oil and grab a bottle (or two) to go at Ojai Olive Oil Company, followed by wine tastings at Casa Barranca and The Ojai Vineyard. Browse titles at Bart’s Books, the largest independently owned outdoor bookstore in the world, and visit the Ojai Valley Museum for a dash of culture. Light and Space Yoga is located in a converted gas station, but don’t let the locale fool you—they also host classes in a local park—and whether you opt for indoor or outdoor, it’s a great way to start your day.
For a day trip, bring your hiking boots to get out into Los Padres National Forest. Dip into Willett Hot Springs before checking out Lebanese-inspired skewers at Ojai Rotie, or farm-to-table eats at The Farmer and the Cook. For a different sip and snack combo, there’s the Southeast Asian cuisine from Sama Sama, a window inside Topa Topa Brewing Co. And if you can’t stop dreaming about those perfectly ripe tomatoes you had at dinner, check out the Ojai community farmers' market on Thursdays from 3-7 pm and the Ojai Certified Farmers' Market on Sundays from 9 am–1 pm. The oldest restaurant in town may not serve garden-fresh eats, but remains a crucial stop: Deer Lodge is a small tavern with live music and cozy fire pits outside.
Drive: 1.5 hours
Stay: Ojai Valley Inn is the main hotel in the area, perfect for families and couples with activities that include arts and crafts for children, golfing for adults, a spa and more on their sprawling grounds. For motel-style lodging, check out the Ojai Rancho Inn or Capri Hotel, which underwent a massive 2020 renovation. The Blue Iguana Inn is a tried and true B&B, while the Thacher House is more like a homey co-op farm; or get closer to nature with one of the airstreams at Caravan Outpost.
There’s a reason Yosemite is one of the country’s most popular national parks, with millions of visitors per year—not many places offer pristine nature at this scale. No matter how many times you’ve seen the Ansel Adams photos, the moment you emerge from the tunnel at the famous vista will absolutely take your breath away. And that’s before you get down into the valley to explore its trails, caves, meadows, and climbs.
During the summer you never forget exactly how popular the park is, with crowds swarming the buses, restaurants, hikes, and lookout points. But in the fall things are a lot more chill, which makes it the ideal time to experience all of that majesty—and it doesn’t hurt that the hiking trails are less crowded and a lot cooler too.
Each hike is iconic in its own way, from the grueling but gorgeous march of Half Dome to the insane vistas at Glacier Point, which is normally accessible by car but is hike-only in 2022. There are also chill options with plenty of payoff, including a stroll around Lower Yosemite Falls, birding, stargazing, and biking. Your best bet for food is probably cooking your own, but if that’s not your thing, there are a handful of restaurants in the Valley which are mostly ok, from sandwiches at Degnan’s Deli to the Pizza Patio at Curry Village.
Drive: Five hours
Stay: Find an amazing Airbnb near Yosemite, or stay in luxury on the valley floor at the Ahwahnee Hotel, a National Historic Landmark with high ceilings, intricate stonework, and a classic Western motif that's been open since 1927. Other more rustic options in the Yosemite Valley include rooms at the Yosemite Lodge and tent cabins at Curry Village.
There are many mountain towns that surround Los Angeles, but none of them are quite like Idyllwild. The unincorporated community in Riverside County has a distinctly different vibe than the rest of the county, and the locals pride themselves on being offbeat and weird. You really have to be, when you’ve elected a dog as the mayor.
You can always rent a generic cabin in Idyllwild, but you could drive for miles and never find a place more odd or wonderful than Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast. A block of differently-themed cabins (a la The Madonna Inn) that range from a haunted house, to a cheesy romantic honeymoon suite, to a shrine to the Twin Peaks’ Log Lady. Take advantage of the titular bud and breakfast, and also pick up some of the incredible pizzas from Idyllwild Pizza Company or spend an evening on the lovely patio at the elevated Italian restaurant Ferro.
Drive: 2.5 hours
Stay: If you decide against Hicksville Pines Bud & Breakfast, another popular option is the Grand Idyllwild Lodge bed and breakfast, or book one of Silver Pines Lodge’s creekside wooden cabins if you’re looking to fish during your stay. Opt for a cabin at Quiet Creek Inn to be among the pine trees, or for a homey feel try Strawberry Creek Inn. You can also find an Airbnb in the area.